View out to the estuary

View out to the estuary

Visiting Whitstable Harbour mid week can be surprising. If you go at the weekend there is an art and craft market there but visit mid week and you can see the harbour at work. It was a lovely crisp day and the sun was shining when I went. There were several small boats unloading their catch. The Lisark was unloading its catch of giant whelks. They are unloaded in open weaved orange sacks. A friendly member of the crew John informed me that most of the catch will be exported to Taiwan. Every now and again he would stop to push the molluscs back into their shells and sacks. The flesh is frozen and shipped in 40 ton containers. Apparently they are quite a delicacy there and thought to be an aphrodisiac. The smaller whelks are still used locally. At West Whelks they were boiling up their catch in giant vats. They provide shellfish for local and up market London restaurants.

I had never heard the term brackish water until my visit. It is a water that has more salinity than fresh water but not as much as seawater. This is why the estuary around Whitstable is so fertile for fish and oysters. The fishing boats are currently fishing around the wind farm that can be seen just off shore.

In 1793 local fishermen bought the rights or royalty to the local oyster grounds and formed the Company of Free Fishers and Dredgers. By 1862 sixty million oysters per year were sent to London markets. The trade declined after the First World War. It is encouraging to hear that the industry survives and that they are finding new markets.

There is a good market to buy fresh fish and shellfish. At the RNLI you can get a coffee or if you want something more substantial there are fish restaurants. I tried the Crab and Winkle which did a set lunch menu for £17.95. The restaurant is named after the railway that ran between Whitstable and Canterbury. It has good views over the harbour and I found it reassuring to eat fish and simultaneously watch the catch being unloaded.

The Thames barge Greta is moored in the harbour and is a poignant reminder of Kent’s contribution to the Second World War. Launched in 1892 it was one of the Dunkirk little ships. It is now available for hire. One of its trips is to the Second World War army forts that can be seen clearly from Whitstable.